Gone is the time when whisky was an old men-only drink. The image of whisky—or uisge beatha (water of life)—has experienced some rejuvenated in the last few years and has become rather fashionable. National and international fairs, tasting workshops and whisky lectures all testify to its popularity.
Indeed, hardly any other aged spirit provides such a variety of flavours and tastes and is able to be such a continuous inspiration. Whether you want to go exploring further afield or rather stick to your favourite tipple, it never gets boring. In each bottle you will discover everything from light, floral and fruity to smoky, powerful and challenging. And just as complex and many-layered as the flavours are the prices. The sky’s the limit and for some this spirit is the ideal investment opportunity. The cellars of whisky enthusiasts are filled with real treasures and it can only be hoped that the dear children or grand-children will never get their hands on these bottles to make their first experience with alcohol.
For those who would rather have their whisky for drinking pleasure, there are plenty of ways to go about it: neat, with a little water, on ice or an as yet largely overlooked option—paired with food.
Refining food with whisky or simply having food with whisky is certainly nothing new. But to specifically tailor whisky to a menu surely is. Combining wine with high-end cuisine like that of German chef Sven Elverfeld is much more the norm. But different whiskies also have many exciting flavours, making it a real pleasure to get a good sip of the corresponding dram. However, it does take time to grasp the many-layered diversity of flavours.
In our case, the selection included whiskies from different regions in Scotland. From the Lowlands with rather mild, fruity whiskies the choice fell on the Auchentoshan 12 years triple distilled. From the Eastern Highlands, The Ardmore Legacy. And from the island of Islay, the choice fell on a 15-year-old Laphroaig and an equally old Bowmore Darkest.
As different as they may be in their own right, they are all alike in two points. By law, Scottish whisky has to have at least 40% vol. and requires storage of no less than three years in oak casks, while the manufacturing process at the beginning is similar to that of beer.
It’s the oak barrels that give the whisky its different flavours and to some extent its colours over a period of time. Other influences to the final product are the water of a certain region, the salt content in the air, the peaty environment as well as the climate. The skill of the master distiller or the distillery manager, who is responsible for the different bottling, also plays a role and requires a lot of experience.
For the tasting it is advisable to start with a small sample taster in order to make the palate and the tongue familiar with what’s to come. The so-called nosing glasses (a tulip-shaped stemware glass) are ideal for discovering the initial aromas when smelling the whisky. It’s possible that certain images and memories appear before the mind’s eye that are associated with these aromas. This heightens the anticipation and makes the prospect of soon having a little sip and then feel the taste on the tongue even more enjoyable. It’s best to keep the whisky on the tongue a little longer, like with a good wine. The first impression from the aromas in the nose, the taste and also the aftertaste in the final note can in fact vary considerably.
Do take your time because the whisky in front of you has waited years, if not decades, for this very moment!